Tuesday, December 9, 2014


I get paid to exercise.  Don't hate me.

If you're a firefighter, you've encountered "PT", physical training, sometimes known as physical torture.  It usually happens around the first hour of the day, after you've read the weather and the situation report, put your gear on the helicopter and your overnight bags on the chase truck.  If you're the boss, like I am, you have to hustle to get out the door, because this is when the phone will probably start ringing, leaving you gazing longingly at the crew as they head off down the road. (If you're the boss, you also have to run awkwardly with your phone, or worse, a handheld radio, in case you get a fire call while you're gone).

On my crew, we mostly PT on our own, because for years I was forced to take part in the dreaded "group PT", and because honestly, it's the only break I get from them all day (Sorry).  It's true that group PT can be a bonding experience.  I used to run with JS when he was on the crew, because we had the same pace and he could distract the local dogs.  Sometimes B will inflict Crossfit on unsuspecting rookies.  But mainly we do our own thing.  I've been on enough crews where we had to run in lockstep to never want to do that again.

Running is the most common form of firefighter PT because it's easy, only a pair of shoes required.  We seek out trails instead of the roads, sometimes to our detriment.  After a rash of twisted ankles, trail running was banned at Mesa Verde. Volleyball and basketball soon followed, forcing us to run glumly on pavement, until we decided to sneak back on the trails again, making plans to limp out to the road if injured.  In Montana, B claimed to have encountered a badger, but since he was running alone he had no backup, so was not widely believed.  Another B almost ran into a bear with cubs, twice, causing him to reconsider running and return to Crossfit.

We don't always get to PT; sometimes fires or projects or classes take precedence.  One of the local fire management officers here doesn't really believe in it.  "Sawing is PT," he bellows, sending his crew out the door with their chainsaws to work on a thinning unit.  We can't go off  site to a nice gym.  We are allowed to use the district weight room but it is often full of hotshots; instead we do creatively named workouts such as "Billy Big Arms" and "Card Deck of Pain."  We make it work.

In the end, PT is a privilege, not a right, I tell my crew.  We do it so we can do those 50 mile hikes out of fires carrying stuff and work all day long.  An out-of-shape firefighter is a liability in the places where we work.  So there we'll be on most days of the summer, running down the road or doing burpees and mountain climbers in front of the station.  Don't be jealous.  Sometimes that fancy gym and available shower that you have looks pretty good to us.  Remember, the grass is always greener (unless it's on fire).


  1. It's nice that exercise is part of your workday (and expected as part of your job). I work all day and then have to squeeze in workout time, either in the wee morning hours before work or after I've worked all day. Of course, I've been laid up now for almost 6 weeks, and am sure wishing I could run. Hopefully by spring, if all goes well. :)

    1. Linda, I hope you get back to it soon! I had knee surgery once (ACL reconstruction) and I know how awful it is not to be able to run.

  2. We get three hours a week which I appreciate. Of course my gym isn't fancy and there's no shower. I do get jealous of the fire people though, especially when I hear my team talking about doing away with our three hours to save money.

  3. "...always greener...unless it's on fire" Too funny; how apt!


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